Musee Maillol: Exhibition Pompei

Today I have to keep my wits with the Paris Metro.  From Santier (where our apartment is) I have to find ligne 3 {Direction Valloise}, but must remember to get off at Opéra to cross to ligne 8 {Direction Balard}.  And then, don’t miss Madeleine to get ligne 12 {Direction Mairie d’Issy} and then to count the stations to Rue de Bac.

But it’s worth it. At Musée Maillol (Aristide Maillol, sculptor, painter, died 1944) there is a rare exhibition from Pompei arranged by the National Galerie de Napoli.  The showrooms are not big, but jampacked and we are rivetted.  What we see is a kind of apocalypse, 79 A.D., the same year that the Romans sacked Jerusalem.

What strikes me (again) is the level of sophistication – the superb statues, slightly larger than life-size, with their peace and poise.  One, a figure of honour,  stretches a generous hand; the other hand carries a rolled document:  I give; I record – signs of civil society.  Then, to keep the balance, a three-times life-size phallic symbol with its three components.  That as well.

Deeply moving, as they were before, are the remains of two human beings clinging to each in their last moments as the horror descended.   In this, Pompei is different from other ruins.  It is surprising how small these people are, but the agony is no less.  Heart-rending.

But, strangely, more intense it is to see the remains of a dog.  Looking at his neck,  you see the sign of a collar that condemned him.  His head is twisted under his back, his legs are branches above his body. His jaw is slightly open in a final cry, before dust and ash buried him for eighteen centuries.

I’ve seen the dog before.  And over the years the memory of that grey gypsom carcass became larger for me. I see it again.  No artist could achieve this.  It is the eye of all suffering, all tragedy, all destruction.

The dog of Pompei

From Metro Rue te Bac I get ligne 12 {Direction Port de la Chapelle} ; at Madeleine I run up stairs, down stairs to catch the connection to Opéra {Direction Cretel}; from Opéra, I count the stations to Sentier {Direction Gallieni}.

In the late afternoon Claudie and I pack our bags and go rumbling along Rue Mulhouse, turn left at Rue de Clery, to be picked up by Simone, Claudie’s Parisian friend.

But the dog of Pompei… it is our brushes that set aside the dust and the ash from that twisted body.  It is our cry in the teeth of those silent jaws.  It is an instant in the apocalypse and it is the pain of humanity in the agony of that dog.

Will van der Walt ©

Samedi  10 Decembre 2011

Image Sources: People –, Dog – 


One Response to Musee Maillol: Exhibition Pompei

  1. Jo Koemer says:

    Oh, well said, Will.

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